Sunday, 10 May 2009

Should UK politicians seek support from abroad?

The previous post mentions George Galloway's trip to Bangladesh before the 2005 General Election.

The reference was made in connection with Hackney-based fundamentalist Christian Reverend George Hargreaves being criticised by the BNP for apparently seeking support for his party in Nigeria.

Whether or not this is something that UK politicians should or shouldn't do, I don't know. But may be it is an aspect of politics that should be more closely monitored - particularly in boroughs with strong links to areas outside the UK.

Galloway beat Oona King by a margin of just 823 votes and the majority of his support came from the Muslim Bangladeshi community which makes up more than 40 per cent of population of his Bethnal Green and Bow constituents.

As such it is likely that his two week trip to Bangladesh played an important part in his victory.

In a speech made at one village on 7 March 2005, Galloway said: "I'm going to be a champion of Bangladesh in London... I will be a champion of Bangladesh in the world. I will fight so Bangladesh receives justice."

He also said: "I'm asking you, my brothers, to telephone every relative and friend in East London, to write them a letter, to send a message, tell them what you heard here... You can strike a blow for dignity when the General Election comes."

When he got back from Bangladesh Galloway was asked: "Do you still intend to become a "Champion of Bangladesh" if you are elected in Bethnal Green and Bow? How do you think that being a "Champion of Bangladesh" will benefit people in Bethnal Green and Bow?

His reply was: "Taking a few words out of the context of thousands I delivered, publicly and privately on a recent visit to Bangladesh, inevitably leads to misrepresentation. My job is not to represent any foreign country or its interests in parliament, nor, of course, would I do so.

"But I do intend to become a champion for all of the people of Bethnal Green and Bow, whatever their race, religion or ethnic origin."

Whether or not the people back in Bangladesh would ever have known that these words were out of context is hard to say. Meanwhile the majority of his constituents back in Tower Hamlets had no idea that he had said the words at all.

As far as I can tell Galloway has stuck to his word and not become a champion of Bangladesh since winning his seat and I don't know if he has been back to the country since. Meanwhile his attention remains focused on the middle east.

However Bangladesh could do with a champion. I'm not sure how accurate or useful this is, but it seems that Bangladesh has more people living in it than the combined global population of Palestinians (c.10m, although 80% of those in Gaza Strip below the poverty line) the entire population of Iraq (31m - now with around 30 per cent living below the poverty line) and the UK population of around 60m (14% below the poverty line in 2003). Add them all up to 100m and may be about 30-40 per cent live below the poverty line.

Meanwhile Bangladesh has a population of 153m with 45 per cent living below the poverty line.

However the reasons why Galloway doesn't spend much time on Bangladesh is that, if he did address human rights abuses or corruption... or anything else, he would lose the support of one faction or other within the Bangladeshi community.

The issue received some attention back in 2005 but not much. This is an extract from an angry piece published in April 2005 by a member of the Socialist Workers Party (which later split from Respect). The piece mentions some of the problems associated with Galloway's trip. Here is an excerpt: "Despite being asked to respond to these instances (of human rights abuses) Galloway has maintained a diplomatic silence. Could it be, as suggested by Private Eye, that Galloway has compromised himself in his ambition to get elected, being aware that “most Bangladeshis in London, whose votes Respect is seeking, support either the Awami League or the Bangladesh National Party, the two groups back home most closely implicated in such abuses” (Private Eye April 1-14)?

"Either way, it is clearly untenable for comrades in the SWP to maintain a silence on such issues. Votes from the Bengali community must be won on a principled basis, not through courting reactionary “politicians and businessmen”

In case you're wondering, I'm not a member of the SWP or the BNP (Bangladesh or British).

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